Recent satellite imagery shows what appears to be a Type 094 second-generation nuclear ballistic missile submarine at one of the piers of an underground submarine base at Sanya, on China's Hainan Island.
An overview of the Yulin (Sanya) Naval Base at Sanya on China's Hainan Island. DigitalGlobe
An underground nuclear submarine base on China's Hainan Island is drawing scrutiny from the United States and India.
According to satellite imagery on the Web sites of Jane's Intelligence Review and the Federation of American Scientists, the base has a sea entrance wide enough to allow submarines to enter the underground facilities. The photograph reveals what appears to be a ballistic missile submarine moored to one of the piers outside.
Rumors of a nuclear submarine base had been swirling for a few years. Kurt Campbell, with the Center for a New American Security, says the satellite photographs confirm those suspicions and stoke anxiety in the region about China's strategic capabilities — and its intentions.
The new base is close to vital sea lanes in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, which China is determined to protect. The location could give China better access — and dominance — over disputed territories, such as the Parcel Islands and Spratley Islands in the South China Sea. The naval facility will also give China more leverage over Taiwan.
India, which also is developing a "blue water navy" and has a rivalry with China that goes back decades, sees the new Chinese base as a "cause for security concern," according to India's Naval chief, Adm. Sureesh Mehta.
Bud Cole, a professor at the National War College and the author of a book on China's military, says adding some sea-based nuclear weapons will not make China the dominant force in the region. Cole says the U.S. has an overwhelming military edge when it comes to nuclear weapons. But, he says, the underground base in China is significant.
"It's something that the United States Navy should be aware of and attempt to prepare for in our long-range planning. But I don't think it's a cause for alarm," Cole says.